Red Carpet District‘s Kris Tapley believes that The Great Debaters, Juno, The Kite Runner and Once may have an Academy edge this year because their feel-good currents are more instinctually appealing than the rampant downerism of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, In the Valley of Elah, Into the Wild, Margot at the Wedding, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, Beowulf, There Will Be Blood, Things We Lost in the Fire, Zodiac, etc.
I can sympathize with anyone who felt bothered or brought down by Margot‘s relentless neuroticism, but the other dark-toned dramas listed by Tapley are — hello? — major uppers for anyone with any appreciation at all for the rudiments of bright, impassioned, sharply crafted filmmaking.
These efforts by Sean Penn, Sidney Lumet, Susanne Bier, David Fincher, Joel and Ethan Coen, Tony Gilroy, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Zemeckis and Paul Haggis are, before anything else, thrilling to sit through. They don’t bore, they don’t twaddle around, and they constantly engage, disturb and provoke. Even Margot at the Wedding has its virtues in this regard. Any industry person who doesn’t understand this needs to find a job making refrigerators or selling cars.
There is no such thing as a very good or great movie that brings people down, regardless of subject matter. “Sad” or “solemnly moving” is not the same thing as “depressing.” There is nothing lower in the movie-watching universe than the kind of person who sits through Au Hasard Balthazar and comes out saying “whoa, bummer…the donkey died.” The only truly depressing movie experience is when you’re watching something gross, tacky, incompetent or ineffective.